The Best STEM Summer Programs for High School Students

STEM is a dynamic field merging the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics concepts. 

STEM education is attracting more and more middle and high school students through its hands-on approach to learning. 

More than any other high school discipline, STEM more accurately mimics the type of complex real-world problems and equally complex approaches needed to solve them.

Working on STEM projects – like building self-driving cars, designing wearable medical technology, or testing novel drugs against persistent illnesses – is exciting and fun. 

In few other disciplines can students take near-total ownership of a research project and learn the value of trying, failing, learning from mistakes, and trying again until success is attained. 

There are countless scholarships available for students who plan on majoring in a STEM field in college, and the great thing about summer STEM programs for high school students is that they give them exposure to the rigor of a collegiate STEM program and the types of careers available to them after graduation.

STEM majors also boast a high return on investment. According to the U.S. News and World Report, an average four-year degree from a public university costs nearly $70,000. That cost may double at a private school. 

Those entering STEM careers after graduation may earn that money back within as few as five years! 

There is also a great deal of flexibility regarding the careers available to STEM graduates. 

From healthcare and electrical engineering to military leadership and education, it’s challenging to think of any occupation that isn’t somehow dependent on the critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration fostered by a STEM degree.

We have compiled a list of the 10 best STEM summer programs for high school students in the United States. 

While some virtual offerings are included in this list, we emphasized in-person experiences that expose participants to laboratory research and hands-on activities. 

There are undoubtedly many other appealing options in different areas of the country, but we find these offerings to be the most compelling.

RISE – Research in Science & Engineering at Boston University (Boston, MA)

Boston University
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Open to rising seniors, Boston University’s RISE is a six-week program designed to give participants the opportunity to conduct meaningful laboratory research in a university setting. Scholars can pursue one of two tracks – the Internship or the Practicum.

In the Internship program, students devote approximately 40 hours per week to working on research projects with expert faculty mentors. 

They can focus on specific topics like medical laboratory research, electrical and computer engineering, or even astronomy. The program culminates in a Poster Symposium where they present their research findings.

The Practicum track specifically focuses on computational neurobiology in a more structured research environment. 

A student’s day may commence with a two-hour lecture before they move to the lab for four hours of collaborative research. 

Participants also attend weekly off-site and on-campus engagements with local pharmaceutical and biotechnology company representatives.

Simons Summer Research Program at Stony Brook University (Stony Brook, NY)

Stony Brook University Union
Kenneth C. Zirkel, Stony Brook University Union, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Simons Summer Research Program (SSRP) at Stony Brook was founded in 1984 for local high school students – today, the program attracts ambitious STEM scholars from all over the nation. 

Called Simons Fellows, accepted students are paired with Stony Brook faculty mentors and organized into research teams where they work together on a specific project. 

The SSRP – a nearly seven-week program – is open to rising high school seniors who have demonstrated a profound interest in science, embody characteristics like independence and creativity, and gravitate toward collaborative opportunities. 

Each Simon Fellow will write a research abstract and design a post to accompany it for the final assignment.

When applying, candidates should peruse the document that houses descriptions of available projects and the mentors supervising each endeavor. 

In the realm of the atmospheric sciences, they might study future Atlantic tropical cyclone variability using climate models or radar analysis of Long Island winter storms to understand snow bands. 

In the domain of medicine, they might investigate the role of gC1qR and C1q in infection, cancer, and autoimmune diseases like Lupus.

Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program (Stanford, CA)

Stanford Medical School
Robert Skolmen Bobskol854, Stanford Medical School, CC BY-SA 3.0

Known as SIMR, the Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program encompasses eight weeks of research conducted alongside Stanford faculty, graduate students, and researchers. 

SIMR was conceived to foster a growing interest in the biomedical sciences among curious high school students and seeks to demystify the various research processes in academia.

While current high school juniors or seniors across the United States are eligible to apply, the admissions process heavily favors Bay Area scholars. 

When completing the application, candidates select one of eight research institutes (i.e., cardiovascular, genetic, immunity). 

For example, at the Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection, SIMR scholars may strive to understand the power of immunosuppressant drugs following an organ transplant.

New in 2023, applicants can elect to participate in the Bioengineering Team Internship, wherein admitted participants attend exciting lectures and spend three days per week collaborating on an authentic biodesign project to address a medical need. 

In small teams, students will build and test prototypes and present their final iterations at a SIMR poster session.

Notre Dame Summer Scholars Program (Notre Dame, IN)

University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business
Eccekevin, Stayer Center 1, CC BY-SA 4.0

Notre Dame offers two two-week Summer Scholars sessions wherein participants can earn college credit and acclimate to the rigor of college academic life. 

The first session is named Research Computing: Computers Accelerating Discovery. 

In the second session, students can sign up to join Engineering and Inventing the Future: Making Things Smarter for a Better World.

In Summer Session I, admitted scholars will gain proficiency with a diverse set of computing tools in order to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems: infectious diseases, climate change, and diminished energy resources, to name a few. 

In addition to building their own supercomputers, they will run simulations that model hurricanes, viral pandemics, and social networks. They’ll also visit the U.S. Department of Energy National Lab on a field trip.

Summer Session II is more oriented toward innovation for solutions that enable convenience versus mitigating a particular global issue, though many solutions share both purposes. Students learn how to build machines like autonomous vehicles, health-monitoring clothing, and quantum computers.

MITES Summer – MIT Introduction to Technology, Engineering, and Science (Cambridge, MA)

Previously known as MITES, what is now referred to as MITES Summer is arguably the best STEM summer program for high school students worldwide! Participants will leave understanding the value of a STEM degree and the range of opportunities available to them.

MITES Summer is open to rising high school seniors, and all costs are covered – admitted students need only pay for transportation to and from MIT. 

Lasting six weeks, the program entails five rigorous mathematics, science, and humanities courses. Scholars also enroll in a project-based elective course, of which past topics have included genomics, machine learning, and engineering design.

Participants can expect to dedicate seven hours daily to class and other structured activities. 

Homework encompasses six hours per weekday and four to six hours per weekend day, making MITES Summer one of the most time-intensive summer STEM programs for high school students. 

By the end of the program, completers will receive a written letter of recommendation from an MIT faculty member, which may prove highly useful in the college admissions process.

Rice University ELITE Tech Summer Camps (Houston, TX; Atlanta, GA; Chicago, IL)

Taking place in three of the most exciting tech hubs in the country, Rice University’s ELITE Tech Summer Camps seek to prepare high school students to become future leaders in technology and engineering. Participants engage in various STEM activities while applying the engineering design process to authentic problems. 

What kind of topics will ELITE scholars encounter? 

From machine learning and AI to 3D printing and the internet of things, participants can expect a highly interdisciplinary experience. 

You can browse each campus to see what courses are available, though we’re most excited about three new courses for 2023.

In Robotic Engineering, participants will learn how solenoids and linear actuators are used to power and control hydraulic and pneumatic systems. 

The Self-Driving Technology course puts students in the literal driver’s seat, introducing them to an understanding of Kalman filters and sharing information about careers in signal processing. 

Finally, in Data Analytics for STEM College Success, scholars develop a data-driven success plan to gain admission to a top STEM college.

Summer STEM at The Cooper Union (New York City, NY)

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Public domain photo by Jim.Henderson via Wikimedia Commons

The Cooper Union advertises a range of in-person and virtual STEM programs for New York City public high school students, all of varying lengths. 

9th and 10th graders can attend a three-week in-person experience, while 10th and 11th graders can spend as long as six weeks in person. There is also a four-week virtual program for sophomores and juniors.

Let’s explore some of the six-week options, like the MakerXR, in which participants develop skills to design prototype solutions for the needs of rural and urban communities. 

In Racecar Research, scholars investigate pumps, electric engines, wind tunnels, and heat exchangers to learn how race cars are built and driven.

Three-week explorations are just as thrilling! In Next-Gen Constructional Materials, participants use mushrooms to design and grow acoustic paneling for the nonprofit Loisaida Center. 

In Computer-Aided Drug Design, participants will learn how new drugs are developed using cloud-based computing. The Cooper Union’s offerings are easily some of the most enthralling on the list!

The Michigan State University High School Honors Science, Math, and Engineering Program (East Lansing, MI)

A seven-week program reserved for rising high school seniors across the United States, Michigan State University’s HSHSP centers research in the STEM fields. 

HSHSP is the oldest continuously running program of its nature in the country, founded back in 1958 as an enrichment opportunity for local Michigan high school students. 

Applicants must also be in the top 20% of their high school class and have attained certain college preparatory mathematics and science prerequisites.

Participants spend nearly eight hours daily working on individual research projects in laboratories. 

This time is supplemented with faculty mentorship, guest lectures, college admissions preparation, and visits to sites like the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory and campus observatory.

In addition to producing award-winning projects, HSHSP boasts that all of its alumni have matriculated to prestigious institutions like Harvard, Cal Tech, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon.

The Anson L. Clark Scholars Program at Texas Tech University (Lubbock, TX)

Texas Tech University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

More often referred to as the Clark Scholars Program, this seven-week-long summer research program enrolls twelve high school juniors and seniors each year, making it one of the most exclusive opportunities on this list. 

The application process is unsurprisingly competitive, with admitted students scoring in the 99th percentile on the SAT.

Admitted students will not be responsible for any costs, as they are all covered by program sponsors. 

Each student will complete a research project while they reside at Texas Tech and receive a $750 tax-free stipend. 

There are nine different research areas to which candidates can apply, including cell and molecular biology, electrical and computer engineering, and physics. 

In addition to working on a particular research topic, participants also attend weekly seminars, discussions, and field trips. 

After finishing the Clark Scholars Program, many graduate from high school to attend top STEM institutions and build fulfilling careers in today’s most dynamic industries.

Summer STEM at The U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD)

The U.S. Naval Academy’s Summer STEM programs will appeal to budding coders, game designers, and robotics engineers. 

The USNA brings in experts from all over the country – including working midshipmen – to design and build exciting STEM projects with rising 9th through 11th graders. While sessions only last six days, they are filled with fun activities!

What does a week at the program look like? 

In addition to participating in STEM academic modules, scholars also engage in intramurals, guest lectures, social activities, and field trips to sites like Fort McHenry or various Smithsonian Museums. 

Academic modules range from Reverse Engineering – where participants disassemble and reassemble a lawn mower engine – to Storm Chasing, where scholars are charged with building a structure capable of withstanding 150 mph winds. Prototypes are assessed within an actual wind tunnel in the USNA Hydro Lab!